Watching The Americans

The Americans Matthew Rhys Keri Russell TV Show Russia Cold War KGB

You may not be aware that the 9th of May is the date of the massive Victory Day celebrations (as in victory over the Nazis) in the former USSR. This means lots of big weapons being paraded down the streets, people dancing, soldiers marching, and – now – lots of idol worship of Vladimir Putin.

I was in Russia around Victory Day a few years before the invasion of Ukraine, and the Putin-worship was shocking even then; I don’t want to know what it’s like now!

Anyway… I wanted to talk about the television show The Americans, which – even though it’s set in the 1980s – is so relevant now.

If you’ve not heard of it, it follows two Russian sleeper agents living fake lives as a suburban American couple while they do the Kremlin’s dirty work. It stars Keri Russell (who I like much better in this than in Felicity), and Matthew Rhys (who is a brilliant actor; he even played Mr Darcy!).

I do wish they’d cast some people who could actually pass for Eastern European, however. Even the people in the real case that partially inspires the series – people who were meant to be undercover – look TOTALLY Slavic to me (I’m Slavic!). These two leads? No.

It’s an odd show in that they’re the bad guys, but you sort of want them to win, as we see it all from their perspective.

It’s also interesting that they made Russell’s character the one more devoted to the cause, and Rhys the one who begins to question what they do.

Even more interesting is that the show was set during the Cold War because the producers didn’t think anyone would believe the Kremlin was up to no good in the present day (excuse me while I fall off my chair laughing!). This, even after ten sleeper agents were discovered dispersed through the USA in 2010.

The show is not perfect, but it’s fascinating. There is FAR too much sex. I don’t know why we have to see the two leads have sex at least once an episode, and then have sex with other people, and then also see all these other KGB agents screwing information out of unsuspecting Americans. It’s just gross.

It is also a lot more “action movie” than the reality, but I guess they had to give viewers a reason to watch!

However, the show is routinely nominated for major awards for a reason, and it is perhaps the most relevant thing on television right now (The Handmaid’s Tale is a challenger for that honour). It is also grounded in reality, with former CIA agents involved in its production.